Sunday, 29 June 2014

Vultures Overhead.

Tis done. My Vultures flew into cyberworld last Friday, and have been floating around the place landing in an e-reader or several. So all it all it's been an exciting weekend.

It's been a challenge, this little ebook. I have never been quite so aware of visiting a country at a particular point in its history. With Fidel Castro aging (aren't we all?) there is a feeling that everyone - Cubans included - are holding a collective breath. Things will have to change.

Will they? Or is that simply western thinking, unable to contemplate a country that has carved a very different niche for itself when compared to the great gods of capitalistic greed? Are Cubans themselves fearful of what will happen when El Padre dies and America knocks on her door with an invitation for McDonalds, and Coca Cola, and heroin?

I couldn't answer any of those questions - though they lurked in my thinking all the time I was there. All I have done is try to tell you the Cuba I met, in January 2014. It is a personal journey - but I hope I have treated the country and her people with respect. That, to me, is more important than anything else.

But, I hear you ask, where are the adventures? Well, there were some hiccups along the way, and a few people I'd rather cross the road than meet again. And others who made me so welcome I felt like family. Read it and see for yourself!!

The Amazon UK link is here, and US link is here. For those who give Amazon the cold shoulder, you can find it on Smashwords here.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Is travel writing simply piddling in the wind?

Most travel writing - and I include my own in this - might look at first sight to be nothing more than fairly trivial recollections on one's journeys. The ups and downs of getting around in unfamiliar countries, of coping with unexpected food or different ways of doing things.

But we write at a time when, or so it seems to me, the world is becoming increasingly divided. Some newspapers would have us believe that there can be no dialogue between Christian and Muslim, between the democrat and the demagogue, between the greedy and the needy.

What travel writers do is ask questions about these differences - often very trivial questions - that explore everything that we have in common. We all need to eat and have shelter from the weather. We love and are loved. We nurture our young and grieve for our dying. The rhythms of our rituals may be different; the way we organise our families and our trade and our means of production may be different, but our fundamental needs and feelings are the same.

Travel writers understand our sameness and explore our differences without making judgement about them.

And in our divided, conflicting world it seems to me that it is needed more than ever.

Are we piddling in the wind? Possibly. One little stream will make no difference. But two little streams is better than one. Three can become a rivulet. Four ... you get my drift.

I cannot accept a world in which we settle our differences with guns. Travel writers might be nothing more than an entertainment for you to curl up with on a wet day. But collectively we can suggest that words are the only way to understand those differences and the only way to find a more peaceful way of living together.

Am I saying travel writers can change the world? Of course not. But I am suggesting that we feed curiosity, and that can never be a bad thing.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Just when you were wondering if I was ever going to write about Cuba ...

Well, the manuscript is almost back from the copy editor. If it's too smothered in red it might be several days (or even weeks) before I can tease it into an ebook. But it will happen.

It already has a blurb:

It’s time for JO CARROLL to pack her rucksack again, and this time she’s heading west, to Cuba.
Everyone, it seems, has been to Cuba, or wants to go to Cuba, or knows about it. Cuba, they insist, is on the brink of change. A market economy will finally see off the old cars and rationing. They’ve been saying that for decades. But what face does Cuba present to a tourist in 2014?
She finds salsa, of course, and cigars, and wonderful coffee. But what surprises wait for her when the music stops?

It even has a  cover:

For which, as usual, I am indebted to Mark Smart.

And if anyone should ask nicely for a review copy, then you can have one. Just get in touch.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Reflections on Berlin

I've been home from Berlin for a few days - time to let ideas simmer. Even so I still don't have a coherent view of the city - but I'm not sure there is one.

A disclaimer to begin with - the weather was lovely; and so, given a choice between learned museums and sitting in the sunshine with a beer, well, I'm sorry but the beer won. I also spent hours walking in streets, generally poking my nose into corners. I did the open-top bus thing, and the river trip - but passed on the ancient-ruin museums, even though I know they have precious collections. (I did go to a couple of art galleries, which were wonderful).

And I did some thinking. Freud told us that are all shaped by our histories - both personal and collective. Reflections on my travels suggest cities fit into the same construct. Berlin is no exception.

Berlin's recent history (by recent I mean the last hundred years) is well known and terrible. There is no hiding from the terrors. The city was devastated by the war: rebuilding has been slow, and without avoiding taking responsibility for the bloodshed. The Memorial to the Holocaust is respectful but still shocking even though no secret any more. The years of division echo in the concrete apartment blocks on what was the East Side - though many have been repainted and balconies added so they don't have the run-down, mildewed look of their counterparts in Havana.

The Wall came down in 1989. The city has had twenty-five years to knit itself back together - and continue to acknowledge its past. There are still differences between West and East (there are trams in the East), but they are blurred now. Restaurants proliferate on both sides. Museums cover the history of the whole city.

I searched for evidence of Berlin's piecing together. Someone told me that, just as the Wall had gone up brick by brick, then that's how it had to come down - and how Berliners had to step into their future. Tentatively, curiously, and now with enthusiasm and energy, the city wonders if it dares be proud of itself. Or would that upset those still traumatised by the Holocaust?

It's vibrant, and gusty, and wondering if it is time to be celebrate its recovering or should still be hanging its head in shame for the past.

Maybe it will take much longer for Berlin to get that 'right.' There will always be those who need, for reasons of their own, to see the city self-flagellate. While there are others who are eager to cheer her modernity.

What I took away is a conviction that great divisions can only mend if we listen and talk to each other. There have been ups and downs but Germany has come together without fisticuffs. Which is why it seems important to learn from them. How have they done it? And what can they teach other countries that seem intent on tearing themselves apart?

Answers on a postcard to those struggling with the mayhem in Iraq ...

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Bears of Berlin

There is much to think about in Berlin. Memorials to events that are too terrible to think about for long. Lovely bars and restaurants where you can sit and drink beer and watch the world go by. 

The city has slowly knitted itself back together since the days of the Wall - I may blog about that when I've had more time to think about it. The city does not shy away from it's stories of hardship and recovery.

But I couldn't find the story behind the Bears. They clearly come from a standard bear-maker, as they are all the same shape. Many are advertising hotels or other businesses. Some seem completely arbitrary, standing on the pavement doing nothing more than entertain the passers-by.

Here are a few of them:

Aren't they wonderful? I remember being equally entranced by the painted cows in New York - but if anyone knows the story behind them I'd love to know it.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Itchy-feet time

I'm heading for the airport tomorrow, and will be awol for a few days .

Here's a clue to where I'm going:

And another clue ... it's not Manhattan ...

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

In praise of women who can mend computers

Last week my computer went on strike. I've got a Macbook Pro - and the screen had stuck a few times but if I ignored it for a while it got the message and got going again.

This time it was more than stuck. Everything disappeared except the little arrow. I pressed all the keys (stupid, I know) and then abandoned it. Several hours later I went back and persuaded it to turn off. We both slept.

I woke up - and the computer didn't. The fan turned on, and the whirly thing swam around the screen for a while. Then, with a bit of persuading, it turned off. I walked up and down, and bit my nails, listed all those things I've been meaning to back up for ages but somehow never got round to (updated pages for the website, my accounts, poems I've written for my grandchildren ...)

I could, I thought, take it to the Mac-mending shop. Without wishing to be too stereotypical here, I began to imagine what might happen. Two geeky boys (pretending to be men, barely old enough to shave) would look very grave and say it would have to be sent away and need new whatnots and thingamies and would cost megapounds.

I began with a plan B: I rang my neighbour and asked the name of her computer-whizzy person. In less than an hour she was here, resting elegant fingers on my machine. I offered tea (I had no cake). She pressed this, that and the other - and then waited. She restarted the machine ... and there it was, my homepage. Documents ready and undamaged.

No, she said, she didn't need money - she'd not been here for five minutes.

But I must pay you, I said, coming to my rescue so quickly.

(I won.)

So, without getting too embroiled in gender, I can't help wondering if women working in a computer-mending shop would do the chin-stroking, this-is-serious thing; or if a man would dream of admitting that my machine was suffering nothing worse than a need for a reset and try to charge me nothing?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

What the ...

My twin grandsons were three yesterday. Like any grandmother I bought presents and cards, sat to wrap them ... and a small flier fell out of one of the birthday cards.

For those of you unfamiliar with three-year old boys: a few are quiet and reflective, but most are impulsive and very physical. They look for anything to climb on, throw, kick, or leap on. They find great joy in their own bodies but it can take some time before their thinking catches up.

So, this little flier invited me to add an 'experience' to the card I'd bought for my grandson (a blue card, with a big blue 3 on it, so there could be no mistaking their target market). (All capital letters are from the flier, just to show how wonderful these opportunities are, presumably).

I could take him to the Kids Spy Academy (that lost apostrophe enough to put off any three-year old ...)

I could take him to feed Big Cats (even the thought of that is enough to give me a fit of the vapours).

I could teach him to Surf ...

I could take him to an Introduction to Archery ...

I could take him for a Photoshoot for a Little Princess ...

I could take him Ghost-Hunting ...

He could drive a Go-Kart

He could try Ice-Dancing

I have a discount number, so if any of you know a three-year old who needs feeding to the lions, get in touch!!